Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Essence of Yom Kippur
To dedicate this lesson

The Yom Kippur Time Tunnel

Why is it important that atonement and repentance remain outside the framework of time?And we may be like angels on the Day of Atonement, but the rest of the year, we are simply flesh and blood, so how are our sins of the year atoned for?


Rabbi Netanel Yossifun

Tishrei 9 5782
Translated by Hillel Fendel

The story is told about Rabbe Tzvi Yehuda of Stratin, who used to pray for many hours on Yom Kippur, finishing hours after the end of the fast. One year, he told his Hassidim, "This year will be different. We'll finish the prayers on time." The Hassidim thought he meant he would say the prayers more quickly – but as the day progressed, they saw that he was praying as usual. He finished the morning prayer only at 6 PM, with just another hour to go until the end of the fast!

But suddenly, in the middle of the Mussaf prayer, at exactly one minute to 7, the clock on the wall froze and stopped. The prayers continued, and took several more hours. Finally, when the final prayer – Ne'ilah – was over, the second-hand on the wall clock resumed its circular journey, showing that the prayers were over at 7 PM, precisely on schedule. The worshipers were sure that the clock had simply stopped for a few hours, and that outside they would find everyone sleeping for the night… But when they left the synagogue, to their tremendous surprise they found that everyone else had just ended Yom Kippur, just like them! The Rebbe had simply extricated them from the framework of time.

This story [and remember, they don't tell these stories about me or you… - ed. note] expresses a very fundamental and profound concept regarding the Day of Atonement, as explained in the Gemara and Medrash. In Psalms 139,16, we read this verse: "… days have been formed and one of them is His." The Medrash (Tanna Dvei Eliyahu Rabba) explains that the specific day referred to here as belonging to G-d is Yom Kippur. Furthermore, the Gemara (Yoma 20b) states that Yom Kippur is different than all other days, in that it is the only day on which the Satan has no authority to give room for sin and evil forces. This is alluded to in the fact that "the Satan" in numerology is equal to 364, referring to the number of days in the year that the Satan can do his evil; on the remaining day, Yom Kippur, he is powerless.

That is to say: The Day of Atonement is outside and beyond the framework of usual time. It is literally a "time tunnel."

Why is it important that atonement and repentance remain outside the framework of time?

The answer is rooted in a correct understanding of where sin comes from: our ultra-involvement in our external, physical, materialistic every-day lives. This is why we sometimes stumble, err, and sin. But on Yom Kippur, we stop for one day, and become like angels: We don't eat, we don't drink, we wear white, etc. And just like angels, which are not physical beings, are pure and without sin - so too we, on Yom Kippur.

But still: We may be like angels on the Day of Atonement, but the rest of the year, we are simply flesh and blood, so how are our sins of the year atoned for?

Another story will help us understand: It seems there was a follower of the Baal HaTanya who allowed himself to deteriorate to a life of sin, but yet kept up his connection with the Rebbe. Every year he would show up to visit the Rebbe as if he were still a G-d-fearing Jew and nothing had changed. One year, he decided he could no longer deceive his Rebbe this way, and showed up for his annual visit in his regular clothing, without a yarmulke or other outside trappings of an observant Jew. The students who first saw him were shocked, but the Rebbe himself remained composed and greeted him warmly. The student said, "Rebbe, I have been lying to you all these years. I've actually been hanging out with delinquents and behaving like them." The Baal HaTanya looked at him loving but piercingly and said, "I've known the whole time how you've been behaving outside – but who said you were lying to me? Maybe you were lying to the criminals you were hanging out with?"

And this is the message of Yom Kippur: Even when a person sins "outside," in actuality he is an angel "inside." The breaking down of the customary frameworks of life [via teshuva] is not an escape from the world, but rather an entry inside to our pure truth, leading naturally to the peeling off of our sins and their atonement.

This is true for every one of us, and for our entire nation as well. Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics recently reported that a full 94% of Jews in Israel observe some form of Jewish tradition; only 6% said they did not at all observe the traditions. This shows us that despite how Jewish tradition is portrayed on the "outside," via the media and other loud public voices, on the "inside," the Nation of Israel actually loves and is connected with G-d. This is our inner genuine truth, sensed by all those who oppose what traditional Judaism stands for – and simply out of fear of what they see, seek to step up their fight against us.

Living and working in what are called "Torah Core Groups," we constantly see and feel the ever-growing and strengthening of the thirst for Torah. This gives us strength, encouragement, and confidence that all those who seek to put stumbling blocks in our way will not succeed, and G-d's Name will be revealed in all our enterprises – Yeshivot, building of the Land of Israel, leadership, and much more.

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